parsley compressed   What cook’s garden could be complete without parsley?  Without doubt one of the most used herbs in the kitchen, parsley is not only a source of lively, fresh flavor but of valuable vitamins (A, B1, B2, C and niacin, calcium and iron) as well.  It has historically been used as a breath freshener, which is why a sprig is often placed on a dinner plate to be eaten after the meal is consumed.  The medicinal garden requires a place for parsley because recent studies indicate that parsley contains essential oils that inhibit tumor formation and is antimicrobial.  And in addition to being beneficial to humans, parsley is a bountiful source of food for many beneficial caterpillars that become beautiful butterflies.  It is especially favored by the swallowtails, so parsley definitely belongs in any pollinator garden.  And because it’s dark green leaves are so decorative, parsley can be used as an elegant and inexpensive edging for any flower garden as well!

A biennial, parsley (Petroselinum) is easy to grow in sun or light shade.  Related to the carrot family, it does appreciate plenty of room for its fleshy root and grows a lush bouquet of leaves when given adequate moisture and nutrients.  If left in the ground after its first growing season, parsley often returns in early spring.  Those first leaves are tasty, but soon become more bitter and tough as the plant produces a tall bloom stalk.  The flower umbels resemble those of dill or fennel, but smaller.  I find them very useful as filler in bouquets.  (An argument to include parsley in the Cutting Garden!)  If allowed, the flowers will produce seeds that turn brown and eventually fall to the ground.  If not eaten by critters, those seeds will germinate the following spring and produce another crop of parsley plants.

If there are no self-seeded plants, then one will need to plant.   Placing the seeds in a plastic bag in the freezer for a week will greatly enhance germination.  Or if short on time, place seeds in a muslin bag tied under a faucet and let cold water run thru the seeds for 2 hours.  (The thought of running water for 2 hrs just to soak parsley seed is contrary to my frugal/environmental nature, but it is an option.) Then simply sow them in small pots of potting soil, cover with a bit more, water, and place out of the way at room temperature.  Parsley likes darkness to germinate, but as soon as the green sprouts show, move them into bright light.  Like other umbelliferae, parsley dislikes having its roots disturbed and therefore resents transplanting.  It is do-able when the plants are small, but growth will be faster if they are just grown in a small, deep pot (remember that “carrot” root!) and then moved into the garden once danger of frost is past.  If plants have been carefully hardened off, they can survive light frosts.  Do keep in mind that rabbits and other critters adore parsley as much as we do, and unprotected plants are likely to disappear overnight.

Parsley is available in both a “curly” leaf and a “flat” leaf form.  Culturally, treat them the same.  In general, flat leaf parsley tends to be a bit taller.  Some claim that the flavor of flat leaf is better, so it is often preferred by chefs, but I suspect that the ease of cleaning and chopping the flat leaves is more of a consideration than the flavor.  Curly parsley is definitely more decorative, and the caterpillars show no preference.  Whatever type is grown, harvest the outer leaves so the center of the plant can continue to produce leaves the entire season.  Harvesting often is actually good for the plant, so that stems and leaves do not get too tough.  In Europe, parsley root or Hamburg Parsley is often grown and available in markets nearly year-round.  It is used similar to parsnips, and in fact looks similar enough that I have often bought the wrong one!  Its Latin name, “Petroselinum” comes from selinum, or celery and petros, or rock.

Fresh parsley adds a delightful taste of spring to any dish, as well as brilliant green color.  However, if you want to store parsley for the winter either freezing or drying it are the best options.   Freeze in small quantities so only the amount needed requires thawing.  Or chop and freeze in ice cube trays.  Then a cube can simply be added to soups or stews.  Otherwise, allow the cube to thaw in a small strainer so the water can drain away before adding to egg dishes or cheese balls, etc.   Microwave drying will provide a supply of parsley that holds its color, while just hanging to air dry will result in bundles of beige.  To microwave dry, simply rinse leaves and pat dry between paper towels.  Remove leaves from the stems and place leaves on a dry piece of paper towel in a single layer, preferably on a large plate that can go in the microwave.  Cover with another piece of paper towel and microwave for 15-20 seconds.  Remove from microwave and flip onto another plate so that the top paper towel is now on the bottom.  You may need to adjust leaves so they are in a single layer again, depending upon your flipping skills.  Remove the now damp paper towel that was on the bottom and replace it with a fresh paper towel.  Repeat until the bottom paper towel is no longer moist at all and the parsley is crisp.  Allow to cool before placing the dried parsley in airtight jars or tins.  Store in a dark, cool place.  Do this in small batches and the earlier paper towels can be used again and again.

Do grow parsley somewhere in your garden this year, and be sure to plant enough for both your family and the caterpillars!   And try this Parsley Salad!  Chop coarsely, 1 bunch parsley.  Add 3 diced tomatoes, 1 diced cucumber, 3 green onions sliced thinly, 1 c. sliced black olives.  Toss with a dressing made of 1/4 c. lemon juice, 1/2 c. good olive oil or salad oil, salt and pepper.

NOTE:  This article was first published on my website as part of my January E-newsletter.  There are 20 years of herb articles, gardening info, and recipes there, so visit Carolee’s Herb Farm for more good reading and photos.


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Second Seeding

Snowfall  It’s February!  The long, long, “always feels the longest” month of January is finally behind us, with its sub-zero temps, blustery winds, freezing rains and lack of insulating snow blanket.  Hopefully February will be a sweet month!   It’s started with a beautiful 6″ snowfall that fell gently to cover every branch and surface, and has not been disturbed by even a slight breeze.  Such beauty makes the heart sing.

Regardless of what’s happening outdoors here in Zone 5, if crops are to be ready for planting in the potager and flower borders at the appropriate time, it’s time to do the second round of  indoor seeding.  It’s not a long list, but it’s some of my favorite crops:  cippolini “Bianca di Maggio”, all of the various snapdragons, dahlia “Sunny Reggae”, salvia “Blue Bedder”, the pretty orange Agastache “Tango” and celery.  Italian flat-leaf parsley could have been in the first seeding, but the two flats were full and I didn’t want to start a new one for just one crop, so it will go in as well. Only the celery and snapdragons need light to germinate this time.  After this, the seeding schedule grows with longer crop lists and larger quantities.  Whee!

Have you begun seeding?  If so, what are you sowing?  Be sure to include your zone, so readers can do comparative thinking.



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January: Monthly review

spinach polytunnel compressed  A potager first!  Here is a January crop of spinach, and I picked a large bowl.  That was all I could reach from the end I could get open.  The three other sides were so frozen I couldn’t get access.  Granted one bowl is not overwhelming, but it’s the first ever January harvest for this old gardener here in the north, and I’m thrilled just to know it can happen.  I waited for a (relatively speaking) warm (20 degrees F) sunny, and still day to open the polytunnel to harvest, and hope there will be enough sunshine and growth to make another picking next month! Regardless, it was very satisfying to be able to make the first entry  of “Jan. 28 spinach…1/2 lb.” in the 2019 Harvest Journal!  I’ll definitely expand the polytunnel growing for next winter.  potager january  All in all, January has been frigid here in central Indiana, with temperatures going as low as minus 17F one night earlier in the month,  a sunny -15 daytime on Wednesday and remaining in the single digits or below zero at night for days at a time.  While this may not be cold to some readers, it is cold for this area, even in January.  Snowfall has basically been absent; just a skiff now and then, so there’s been no insulating blanket of snow to protect plants during these frigid days and nights.  If you look carefully, you’ll see that the grass is not even covered with the skimpy 1 1/2″ of snow present.  Sunshine has been pretty absent as well.  For the first time in 25 years, we’ve had to put a heater in the garage to keep it above freezing for all my canned goods stored out there, the baskets of potatoes and squash, and the braids on the allium rack.

On a happier note, the first seeding has been completed and daily checking brings  rejoicing at each new bit of green.  The hollyhocks germinated in only 5 days, with the shastas, golden feverfew, rudbeckia and gaillardia quickly following.  All of these were in the “light” flat.  So far,  nothing in the “dark” flat has emerged.  Possibly just the bit of heat from the lights made the difference.  The next seeding is scheduled for Feb. 1st so today will be a fun one!   Amaryllis bulbs were started in January, garden journals set up for the new year, and seeds organized.  Otherwise, there’s more innovative cooking to use up pantry items and reading thick books with cups of hot tea, and daydreaming than usual.  The wind howls, but in my mind the sun is shining and the flowers are blooming!  And what did I make with my bowl of spinach?  Well, half was used to make a delicious spinach frittata  spinach frittata for a dinner meal.  The other half will become a spinach salad.  January gets a hearty “Farewell” and February is welcomed with hope and excitement.



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Crossing the Wheel

In response to the Paul’s Patch challenge to look at the garden in winter’s depth, but to remember the grand difference of summer’s brilliance to keep us motivated and positive, here are my two views.  Sadly, I couldn’t find two from the exact same spot, but hopefully it works.  potager january  The potager at January’s end, during minus 17F.  And, the potager in mid-July.  Remember all the colors?potager 8-16 good  To enter the challenge, just post midwinter and midsummer photos, and use the tag “crossingthewheel”  Thank goodness the wheel is turning toward spring!

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Six on Saturday: Jan 26

potager front whole compressed  It’s snowing!  For my birthday, which is lovely and makes my world pristine and pretty.  To celebrate, here’s my “Six on Saturday” as we creep to the end of January.  1)  This week we had not only frigid (minus 17) temperatures but wind advisories as well.  Even the fairies couldn’t keep their roof on!  fairy roof compressed  I suspect they’ve wisely moved on to warmer climates.  2) I’ve been viewing other blogger’s luscious photos of hellebores in bloom with great envy.  Here’s what the hellebores in my gardens look like at present, barely a bit of green let alone buds!  And looking fairly pummeled from the freezing rain that also livened up our week.hellebores freezing  3)  The lack of color in the bleak midwinter does make one appreciate some things that are often overlooked during the vibrant months, like the spines on the gooseberry bushes  gooseberry in snow  and the 4)  Snow on dried hydrangea flower heads.   hydrangea in snow  5) The Cutting Garden is a study in brown and white, and a closer look indicates that the birds have cleaned out all the seed heads, so some nice day (if there is such a thing again) this garden can get a clip & tidy.  cutting garden in snow   6) And lastly, since there’s so little to cheer about outdoors, it’s time to bring the amaryllis bulbs to life.  These were brought up yesterday from the basement where they’ve been resting for months.  I found them while I was dealing with frozen pipes (don’t ask me how much I love winter!)  Already there are bits of green emerging, promising better days ahead.  amaryllis bulbs started  That’s my “Six” and if you’d like to see some beautiful, blooming gardens check out other offerings at The Propagator, the host of this meme.  No doubt you have six things in your garden that are much better than I can offer, so read up on the rules and give it a go!

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I’ve been finalizing the spring planting plan for the potager.  It’s a lot easier to move crops around on paper and make good decisions than it is outdoors in the heady rush of spring.  Good planning makes sure that succession crops go in on schedule (with a nod to weather, of course) but in order to do that, good record keeping of not only when crops went in, but when they went out really helps.  For instance, shallots generally come out sometime before mid-July which is a perfect time for parsnip seed and brussel sprout plants to go in (here in Zone 5…it could be different where you live.)  Sometimes it’s a tight squeeze time-wise and the weather doesn’t cooperate.  Then decisions have to be made on the fly, but the more planning that can be completed in the calm of winter the better.  Still, the problem can be that crops don’t come out quickly enough.  New crops need to go in, but there’s no empty space.  Here’s my current thinking to help remedy that situation.

Today’s topic is interplanting.  Long-time readers will know that radish seeds are always mixed with slower germinating crops like carrots and kohlrabi in the Herbal Blessings potager.  They emerge to mark rows quickly and are ready to harvest in only 3 weeks!  This also saves a lot of thinning time, and means not wasting seeds of carrots, etc.  (Plus I have trouble killing baby plants intentionally.)  And it means that radishes never require their own row, which allows for more crops in the potager’s limited space. fava may end Last year I experimented with more interplanting to save space.  Onion sets were planted with fava beans and aspa-broc.  Both worked exceptionally well.  As the favas and aspa-broc plants grew larger, the onions were harvested as scallions, working outward from the ever expanding shade.  When the favas and aspa-broc’s full-size was reached, the remaining onions left in relative sun were left to mature.  Win-win.  And, as a bonus there seemed to be fewer insects on the beds with the onions than on the beds without.

This year, there will be more experiments.  I dislike seeing bare ground around slow-growing plants, so this year all the cabbage and cauliflower will be surrounded by onion plants.  Now there can be plenty of grilled scallions early on, but onions for storing all winter as well without a dedicated onion bed!

Squash plants will get a carrot underplanting.  Doesn’t it bother you to see a big square of empty soil surrounding that one little squash plant?  Of course it’s going to need that entire square eventually, but what about in the meantime?  Lots of good eating can come from that space while one waits.  And what if those tall squash leaves prevent those pesky carrot flies from circulating?  I get excited just thinking about it.

Somewhere last year I read, and made a note stuck in last year’s planting journal that broccoli likes growing with beets.  I love growing beets for pickling and roasting, and finding enough space is always a challenge.  Planting rows of beets amid the broccoli should provide those tiny early beets pulled whole to saute with a bit of butter, slightly larger ones whose greens and roots (scrubbed and quartered but left raw) for salads, and eventually, full-sized beets for roasting and pickling.

Little Gem Lettuce compressed  And, there will be more intentional harvesting.  I love planting small blocks of “Tom Thumb” and “Little Gem” lettuces.  This year instead of a designated bed for lettuce there will be nine adorable plants in a tidy little square (3-3-3) or ten in a perfect triangle (4-3-2-1) in the corners of the potager’s large squares.  I’ll harvest one from the center and stick in a young pepper, eggplant, or tomato plant.  Continue harvesting lettuces as the newcomer grows and viola!  No wasted space!

I’m going to be looking at other combinations and possibly revising some of my planting scheme.  Already the interplanting plan has “freed” up some rows so additional crops can be added!  Whee!  Now I can move a few items from the “Wish” list to the “Order” list!  What interplanting strategies and combinations have worked for you?

NOTE:  As with any intensive planting, interplanting will require excellent soil fertilization and careful attention to watering.

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Six on Saturday: Jan 19

Winter has arrived again.  It comes.  It goes.  The needed blanket of snow only lasted a couple of days before melting and exposing the plants to unneeded excess moisture and harsh winds…again.  Right now, there’s freezing rain.   It’s going to be minus 10 degrees on Monday, but according to my records, it’s time to start seeding…actually a bit past time for pansies and violas for our area (Zone 5, north central Indiana.)  Uncharacteristically, I just have not been motivated to do it.  However, I know that IF 2019 mimics 2016 with a lovely, very early warm spring I’ll be really, really unhappy if the seeds weren’t planted as scheduled.  IF 2019 resembles last year, there’s no need to rush, but how’s a gardener to know?  Better to have plants ready than not, so here are the six steps toward seeding that work best for me:

seeds in freezer  1) The seeds that need stratifying by freezing were put in a plastic bag in the freezer a week ago so they are ready to sow.  This includes pansies, violas, parsley, and all hardy perennials.  seed trays washed  2) Seeding trays, plant markers and domes have been washed thoroughly and soaked on a 10% bleach solution to kill any lingering diseases or insects.

seed tub  3) Leftover seeds and newly purchased packets have been carefully sorted by planting dates with dividers that indicate the date to plant.  There’s one box for indoor seeding and another one for direct seeding outdoors.  Here’s a close-up of two of the dividers:dividers The dividers tell me the date the seeding should occur (upper right hand corner.)  Seeds that are in the freezer  are marked with an “F” in blue.  Those that require light (L in yellow) to germinate will be seeded together in a flat and not only left uncovered by soil but given a clear plastic dome.  I can’t tell you how many seeds I spoiled before I learned which ones need total darkness and which ones need light to germinate.   Sometimes it’s surprising to know that gomphrena needs total darkness, celery needs light!  “D”  (in red) means not only do the seeds get covered with soil, but the flat will get a solid cover or be put in a black plastic bag until germination occurs.  Those without a letter just get lightly covered with soil and a clear plastic dome.  The peppers should have an “H” indicating they need to go on the heating mat to germinate.  I’ll have to fix that!

potting soil  4) A bag of potting mix has been moved indoors to thaw out and reach room temperature prior to seeding.  seed rack  5)  The light stand has been cleaned and sprayed with a 10% bleach solution.  Bulbs have been checked and replaced.  I made this stand over 30 years ago.  I justify the saggy shelf by using it for taller seedlings!  Warming mats have also been cleaned with a bleach solution and are ready to go to work.

seed journal  6)  The Seeding and Transplanting portion of this year’s garden journal has been set up, sharpened pencils at the ready.

That’s my six items for this Saturday, and actually just doing all the prep work has put me in a seedy mood!  Today is THE DAY!  If you’d like to read the thoughts, actions, and observations of other gardeners around the world, visit The Propagator, who hosts this meme.

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